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Introducing the Computing Technologies Industry Association or CompTIA

CompTIA's best-known certifications include the A+, Network+, and i-Net+ Internet literacy credentials. But the organization offers other certs, all of great potential interest to IT professionals. Read what author and columnist Ed Tittel has to say about CompTIA's certification programs, and how he rates their various credentials. Almost everyone will find something worthy of further investigation in this interesting collection of certification credentials. You'll also find pointers to more information about each of CompTIA's programs, as well as a general description of CompTIA's respected methodology for building good, general, vendor-neutral certification exams.

Unlike many other organizations that offer certification programs, CompTIA is an industry association comprised of over 8,000 members that seeks to provide vendor-neutral measurements of individual competencies and knowledge. Member organizations contribute money, people, and time to the selection, design, and development of certification exams out of enlightened self-interest. That is, they seek to create testing instruments that will help them to identify competent potential employees for specific job roles.

CompTIA certification exams are based on a rigorous psychometric approach to exam design. Building a CompTIA exam begins with a detailed and painstaking job task analysis, to identify the kinds of skills and knowledge that practitioners in the field to be tested must know and use on the job. Next, CompTIA recruits subject matter experts (SMEs) from within the field to help identify topics and technologies related to job skills and knowledge, and to develop potential test items. Next, test items are evaluated and debated as they go through a development and selection process.

Once test items are developed, ordinary participants and SMEs are invited to take beta exams to help identify questions that distinguish those in the know from those not in the know. Interestingly, questions that everyone gets right are as irrelevant as those everyone gets wrong because neither type provides much help in distinguishing knowledgeable and experienced exam candidates from ignorant or inexperienced ones. The resulting question bank provides the basis for production-level exams, wherein individuals are continuously monitored for tuning and replacement.

Ongoing statistical analysis of question items helps to distinguish levels of difficulty in the item bank. Thus, it becomes possible to develop adaptive exams over time—once enough candidates have responded to the questions in the item bank to create statistically significant results (usually this means several thousand interactions with the item bank are required)—where more difficult questions are chosen when candidates answer questions correctly, and easier questions are chosen when they answer questions incorrectly. This makes it possible to establish a candidate’s level of knowledge and experience more quickly, and often permits an exam to be completed with only 15 to 25 questions presented.

CompTIA’s exams cover a broad range of topics, from entry-level PC technicians to classroom technical instructors. Some of its best-known exams—particularly A+ and Network+—have become outright industry standards. Other exams cover narrower technology niches or specialties, but all are worth getting to know. In the sections that follow, I cover the entire collection of CompTIA certifications with the goal of explaining what each exam covers and its general interest and appeal. The exams to be covered include the following (in alphabetical order):

  • A+. Two exams that assess understanding of basic, entry-level PC hardware and software technical support.
  • CDIA+. An exam that assesses understanding of basic, entry-level document imaging.
  • CTT+. Short for Certified Technical Trainer, a certification that uses both exams and videos to ascertain an individual’s classroom training skills and knowledge.
  • e-Biz+. An exam that assesses understanding of e-business systems and solutions.
  • IT Project+. An exam that assesses individuals’ IT project management skills and knowledge.
  • i-Net+. An exam that assesses basic knowledge of Internet protocols, principles, and practices.
  • Linux+. An exam that assesses basic knowledge of and proficiency with the Linux operating system.
  • Network+. An exam that assesses basic knowledge of and proficiency with networking protocols, practices, and technologies.
  • HTI+. An exam that assesses understanding of in-home systems (entertainment, networking, environment controls, and security).
  • Security+. An exam that assesses basic understanding of networking and organizational security.
  • Server+. An exam that assesses understanding of advanced PC hardware topics and components, such as those used on modern, high-end network and Web servers.
  • It’s possible to glean two important facts from a perusal of this list: (1) CompTIA certifications generally end with a plus sign, which indicates general coverage around the primary topic, and (2) most CompTIA credentials either cover entry-level or basic competencies and are designed to certify basic skills and knowledge. The CTT+ and Server+ exams are exceptions to the latter, as are IT Project+ and e-Biz+ as well (the first two because of their advanced subject matter and high experience requirements, the second two because of their more advanced focus and technical requirements.


    The A+ exam seeks to identify PC technicians with at least 6 months of on-the-job experience. The current version of the exam consists of two portions: the A+ Core Hardware examination and the A+ OS Technologies examination. Each exam must be taken separately, and it is necessary to pass both exams to obtain the A+ certification. Each exam costs $89 for individuals who work for CompTIA member companies, or $139 for non-members. Individuals can wait as long as they like between taking the first and second A+ exams. The only restriction is that both exams must share a common version designation (and CompTIA gives plenty of warning when versions are about to retire, so this should not pose undue hardships for candidates).

    The Core Hardware exam covers a broad range of PC hardware issues and technologies, from installation, configuration and upgrades, across a broad range of system components (motherboards, processors, memory, and printers), to basic networking knowledge. The OS Technologies exam covers Windows 9x and Windows 2000, plus the command-line environment. It includes question domains on OS fundamentals; installation, configuration, and upgrade; troubleshooting and diagnostics; and basic coverage of networking protocols, client software, and utilities.

    The A+ exam is the best known and most popular of all the CompTIA exams, with over 300,000 individuals certified in this credential. It has become a standard element in the certification repertoire of many IT professionals, especially those who work with and around PCs. For more information about A+ certification, please visit http://www.comptia.org/certification/a/default.asp.

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